​by Amy Poulter

The Virginia Symphony Orchestra has received an $80,000 grant that will help it become more sensory-friendly to patrons.

The grant from the League of American Orchestras will allow the symphony to present three concerts to “celebrate neurodiversity in all its forms,” according to a news release.

Each concert will be open to all, but will feature accommodations for people in the autism spectrum or with sensory sensitivities.

Christy Havens, VSO’s vice president of orchestra activities, said they began researching such concerts last fall. Changes will be made on stage and off to make guests feel comfortable, she said, and will be geared to audiences of all ages. 

“The front of the house will be very different from what you typically see,” Havens said. “We’ll have flexible seating, so guests can sit where they would like, and a quiet space in the lobby. Sound from the concert will be piped out to the lobby so they can still hear, though.”

Tickets will be fully refundable, for people who find that they can’t continue with a concert, and booklets with information on the timing of each show, like how long specific portions are so that guests know what to expect, will be available beforehand.

Havens also said the pacing of each show will change a bit.

“Instead of alternating between fast and slow pieces, the shows will each have a gradual build  throughout,” she said.

The first sensory-friendly concert is scheduled for Nov. 2 at the Ferguson Center in Newport News, and two more will follow in the spring. 

The symphony earned the grant after an independent peer review panel approved the VSO’s “capacity to respond and adapt to opportunities and changed circumstances, and the potential for artistic, internal, community, and public value, and field-wide impact.”

“The sensory-friendly concerts are a direct outgrowth of our efforts to increase our community impact and touch more lives with music,” said VSO President and CEO Karen M. Philion. “I am so proud of our creative team and the national recognition of our success in expanding access to live symphonic music.”


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